According to a new survey co-sponsored by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. and Citrix, nine out of 10 full-time U.S. employees believe their bosses trust them to get their job done regardless of where and when they do their work.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why telecommuting has become so popular lately. The truth is, though, if you’re juggling a work schedule from your home, or you’re working on odd hours from the traditional workday, there will be many small things to consider in order to help you (and your colleagues) thrive in this new work environment. We reached out to some women who are experts in the field of flexible work schedules to get their advice on the most important systems to put in place in order to ensure that your flexible schedule doesn’t interfere with your company’s (and your) success.
Here’s what they suggested.
Be thoughtful when approaching the topic of flexible schedules at work
If working a flexible schedule is something you’ve always dreamed of, but you’ve never been able to gather the courage to talk to your boss about it, now’s the time to go for it — but put some thought into your request before you do.
“When you are requesting flexibility or a work-from home situation, always frame your request in terms of why it will benefit your employer, not why it will benefit you,” says Lindsey Pollak, a millennial workplace expert who consults for companies such as The Hartford. For example, Pollak suggests framing your request by saying something like, “I will be more productive working from the quiet of my home, and more focused during the day if I know I can leave at 4 p.m. to pick up my children.”
Provide structure to your day, even if it’s flexible
If you’re new to working a flexible schedule, it’s important to be disciplined with your time, says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs.
“Flexible schedules are hugely helpful, but you need to be a great self manager in order to succeed when using one,” she said. “I recommend setting yourself up with a structured work day, such as having a set of core work hours when you know you can be completely focused and dedicated to work.”
Working with set hours — even if you’re working from home — helps your manager and co-workers know when they can expect you to be available, and it also helps you prepare to be mentally “on” for work during those specific hours, just as you would in a regular office. Pollak adds that it’s a good idea to let your teammates know up front when and by what method they can always reach you when you are not at the office.
“Are there certain hours when you are always available by IM or Skype?” she suggests. “Are there certain days you can come into the office for a meeting? Be consistent and specific, and people will learn how to work with (and support) your flexible situation, and you’ll make sure you aren’t sidelined or ignored.”
If you’re working for a company that allows you to work from home or structure your own work day, setting specific hours for work will probably be simple. The trouble comes, however, if your job is a freelance or contract position, where you are essentially at the whim of other client schedules and needs.
For example, Susan Jones left her job as a lawyer for a big company seven years ago to start her own executive coaching and facilitation practice, and what she found was that, starting off, she allowed herself to work at the whim of her clients.
“If they wanted to schedule something at 8 a.m., I was agreeable,” she said. “Similarly with 5 p.m. Later I learned that it is okay for me to structure my day around my time. It took me a while to learn that ‘flexible schedule’ meant that I can really control my schedule around my life. That’s part of the reason to do this!”
Acquire the necessary tools
The absence of a landline and spotty Wi-Fi connections simply don’t make for suitable work-from home situations.
“Get the best technology you can,” says Pollak. “The fastest Wi-Fi, noise-cancelling headphones if you do a lot of conference calls, a top-notch scanner and printer, and any other tools to help you do your work and appear professional to others. Don’t cheap out and have your second-hand printer conk out when you’re printing an important client proposal.”
Fell, for example, relies heavily on her Google calendar to plan her day. “I have six different calendars set up, each color-coded,” she said. “I try to block time and set reminders in Google calendar. It keeps everything in one place, and helps me remember what I need to be focusing on, and what’s coming up.”
Create an appropriate work space
While it’s not absolutely necessary to have a separate office dedicated entirely to your work life (although that would be nice), it is important to set yourself up for work in an area that will help you avoid distractions, such as from other family members, your growing housework to-do list and the temptation of the latest episode of The Mindy Project that’s waiting for you on Hulu. “Whether it’s a corner of your guest bedroom, a renovated space above your garage, or a glorified closet, find a home office work space that lets your household and yourself know that it’s time for work,” says Fell.
You’re a hard worker, you get your work done on time and you’re good at your job — that’s why you can successfully manage a flexible work schedule. “Never apologize or feel guilty for your situation,” says Pollak. “Flexible work arrangements are common today, and often very successful situations. If you are doing your job and being a good colleague, there is nothing to apologize for.”